11th African Regional Meeting (Addis Ababa, 24-27 April 2007): The power of dialogue: When words combine with actions

The old adage goes "actions speak louder than words", but when it comes to governance, words are essential. A new report prepared for the ILO's African Regional Meeting on 24-27 April, shows how an ILO project targeting seven enterprises in two areas with high unemployment and HIV/AIDS combined skills development with social dialogue to improve performance and meet the challenge of growing textile imports.

Article | 20 April 2007

The old adage goes "actions speak louder than words", but when it comes to governance, words are essential. A new report (Note 1) prepared for the ILO's African Regional Meeting on 24-27 April, shows how an ILO project targeting seven enterprises in two areas with high unemployment and HIV/AIDS combined skills development with social dialogue to improve performance and meet the challenge of growing textile imports.

PRETORIA, South Africa (ILO Online) – "This has been the greatest job I have ever done, changing people's lives positively", says Nozipho Zulu, Internal Facilitator of an ILO project in the Newcastle and Ladysmith areas in KwaZulu Natal Province.

Launched in June 2004, the project targeted seven enterprises ranging from 100 to 1,500 employees, the majority of whom were rural women working in knitting, clothing, medical and industrial textiles and related operations. Based on social dialogue between management and labour, the project sought to improve performance to enable the enterprises to sustain and grow.

Following assessments conducted at each enterprise, a centralized training programme was developed for implementation teams, managers, team leaders and internal trainers and facilitators. Training focused on state of the art manufacturing practices such as teamwork, visual performance measurement, quality, problem solving, maintenance, and human resource development.

The training courses profited worker representatives and management alike, and with them, social dialogue in the companies. "I have learnt to respect and treat other people as equal human beings in the workplace", says David Robinson, Line Manager.

Jabulani Majola, Shop Steward, agrees. "Working hand in hand with management has been a great success", he says.

A simple Human Resources Policies Procedures Manual to support performance improvement initiatives was also developed. During the course of the project seven internal facilitators were trained and by the end at 2005 28 team leaders were trained and accredited.

Partnership and dialogue also played a role in the implementation of the project's work programme. It was made possible through the collaborative efforts of various local and international organizations, including the Swiss government; the South African Clothing & Textile Workers Union (SACTWU); Northern KwaZulu Natal Clothing Manufacturers Association; local municipalities; Clothing, Textile, Footwear and Leather Federation (CTLF); Sector Education Training Authority (SETA).

The Government of Switzerland contributed US$1.4 million for the project and has provided US$1.2 million for a second phase, increasing the number of enterprises reached to 20. This new phase has extended the project to other parts of South Africa, and has moved from the textile and clothing sector to target interventions in the tourism sector.

Regina Amadi-Njoku, ILO Regional Director for Africa sees a great potential for replication of this approach in the clothing and textile sector elsewhere in South Africa – with modest financial resources to give such programmes a kick-start.

"The project demonstrates that performance improvement can be achieved through a combination of skills development and healthy labour management relations at the enterprise level. This could help to shape industrial policy around performance improvement in South Africa and other countries on the continent", says Ms Amadi-Njoku.

Social dialogue for better governance

The ILO project also shows that "there is power in dialogue and through that power lies understanding", as Sharon Small, Human Resources Officer in one of the companies puts it.

Despite some encouraging progress, however, the weak institutional and human resource capacity of the tripartite partners in Africa constitutes a major hindrance to effective social dialogue, and the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes.

According to the ILO report prepared for its African Regional Meeting, it is important to focus on enhancing the capacity of trade unions to negotiate collective agreements, to analyse labour market information, to better understand international labour standards and national labour legislation, to apply dispute prevention and resolution procedures, and to use socio-economic data to support collective bargaining skills. The report also calls for strengthening the capacity of independent employers' organizations to enable them to articulate the legitimate interests of businesses, large and small.

A more effective social dialogue would also strengthen democratic governance as it involves all stakeholders in national decision-making processes and in managing labour policy, the report says.

"Tripartite consultations should be broadened to eventually cover the whole range of labour, employment and macroeconomic policies. As more and more African countries hold elections that are considered to have been competitive, free and fair, efforts are also under way in a number of countries in the region to revitalize or create effective institutions for social dialogue", says Ms Amadi-Njoku.

The report finds that social dialogue in most countries in Africa has focused mainly on workplace concerns so far rather than trying to influence national economic and development policies.

"The promotion of social dialogue in Africa calls for tripartite or bipartite social dialogue institutions to be set up where they do not exist and to be reinforced where they already exist. Policies for promoting social dialogue and good social and economic governance in Africa should concentrate on effective participation of workers' and employers' organizations, an equitable legal framework and stronger labour administration" concludes Ms Amadi-Njoku.

For more information (Reports, press releases, etc.) on the 11th African Regional Meeting in Addis Ababa, please click here.


Note 1 - The Decent Work Agenda in Africa: 2007–2015, Eleventh African Regional Meeting, Addis Ababa, April 2007. Report of the Director-General, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2007.